A lot of attention has been paid to the dangers of concussions in football since the death of former NFL defensive back Andre Waters and the release of a report that indicated concussions were tied to depression in ex-NFL players. Those incidents have led the NFL to undertake several new initiatives and, across the nation, football programs from the high-school to professional levels are taking a more proactive approach to preventing head injuries. A former Harvard quarterback and his innovative company are also contributing to the cause with their newest invention – the X1 football helmet.

The X1 is the product of Xenith LLC, a company established in 2004 by Vincent Ferrara – a Harvard quarterback in the mid-90s and a graduate of Columbia’s business and medical schools. Ferrara founded Xenith with the mission of advancing safety and activity through innovation and education, and the company is currently focusing most of its attention on finding ways to reduce concussions through new technology. Much of the technology Xenith has developed so far is featured in the X1, which incorporates an innovative head protection system not currently seen in any other helmet. The system is called Xenith Adaptive Head Protection(TM), and it’s comprised of patent pending “Aware-Flow(TM) Shock Absorbers” and a new fitting method known as “Fit Seeker(TM)”. According to Xenith, the combined effect of these two technologies is designed to reduce the risk and severity of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

Here’s how the system works: the X1 is equipped with 18 Aware-Flow Shock Absorbers embedded between the outer shell of the helmet and a flexible interior head piece. Each shock absorber is a lightweight, hollow disk made from thermoplastic urethane, with a small hole in the center that allows air to flow in and out. Unlike the foam in standard football helmets, the shock absorbers respond differently to high, medium and low impacts. The disks absorb a low-impact hit by slowly letting air out and compressing. But with a more forceful (high-impact) hit, air pressure inside the disk creates greater resistance – slowing down the speed at which the disks compress even further. The overall purpose of the X1’s shock absorption system is to reduce the sudden movements of the head that often cause concussions. Meanwhile, the “Fit Seeker” component assures that the helmet doesn’t go flying off during impact.

Recently, the X1 football helmet received approval from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) – a nonprofit organization that commissions research and attempts to establish standards for athletic equipment. No word yet on whether the NFL is looking into this new technology, or when the X1 will be available for retail purchase.